Global crises will not be solved by biofuels.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 13:52

When the Middle East erupted in civil unrest, it didn’t taken long for western countries to start worrying about where their next ‘oil fix’ was going to come from.

In Europe, the pursuit of biofuel has been motivated by climate change concerns and targets to reduce greenhouse gasses that all EU member states are required to meet. This is in stark contrast to the US, which promotes ethanol as a way to secure energy independence and end reliance on oil coming from volatile Middle-Eastern states. Debates around biofuels in the US continue to rage but almost never touch upon environment or climate change.

In the wake of this new wave of protest and instability across the Middle-East, European countries are also starting to get nervous about where they’re going to get their future oil supply.  Two weeks ago Spain announced a whole series of measures that they plan to implement in light of the shocking events in Libya and the resulting oil price hikes. These include lowering motorway speed limits, cutting train prices and yes, of course, using more biofuel.

But this strategy is deeply misguided. It is impossible to grow enough biofuel to wean us off oil. Investment in biofuels is replacing genuine ways of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from transport (such as electric cars powered by truly renewable sources); and we will still be relying on fossil fuels from unstable parts of the globe for decades to come.

All this at a time when the evidence against biofuel is stacking up. Recent research by a coalition of NGOs  shows that the net effect of UK biofuel policy is to increase greenhouse gas emissions rather than reduce them. The UK could be adding up to 13 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year into the atmosphere, the equivalent of putting 6 million more cars onto UK roads by 2020.

The devastating environmental impact is accompanied by equally terrible social consequences. Here in the UK there are widespread concerns amongst drivers over the rising price of petrol, but a potential global shift towards biofuel as a result of recently inflated oil prices has a much more worrying impact for millions of people across the developing world.

The diversion of huge amounts of the world’s food supply into biofuel is reducing the availability of food and contributing to pushing up global food prices and forcing more people into hunger.  In the world’s poorest countries, where families can spend as much as 80% of their total income on feeding themselves, these price rises are devastating. Government biofuel targets are also encouraging foreign companies to oust poor farmers from their land making it increasingly hard for them to survive.

The Department for Transport last week launched a formal consultation looking at the future of biofuel policy in the transport sector. But they have revealed that they are nervous about the ‘sustainability’ of biofuels coming into the UK transport system. Let’s hope that these massive price rises in oil don’t overwhelm their concerns and push us into using another unsustainable fuel source that’s wreaking havoc in the developing world.

We'll be launching our massive biofuel campaign in the next few weeks so watch this space for ways to trake a stand against biofuels.